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What if Harry Douglas was able to stay on his feet in the 2012 Conference Championship Game?

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It’s not the biggest recent what if for Atlanta, but it’s one that still rankles.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

So today, we’re here to consider a what if.

First of all, I really didn’t want to get into the Super Bowl here, because it’s Monday, because it’s the first thing everyone’s mind goes to anyways, and because nobody needs that trauma with their afternoon angst. There were a million other directions I could have gone with this—what if the Falcons hadn’t traded up for Julio? What if Kyle Shanahan stayed in 2017? What if the Falcons didn’t draft Matt Ryan—but I think this one has haunted me for long enough that it’s worth talking about.

I’m going to dredge up something from a little further back, in the hopes that it’s slightly less painful. What if Harry Douglas hadn’t tripped over the turf monster in the NFC Conference Championship game back in 2012?

The Falcons had blown a big first half lead, as is their wont, when Douglas caught a pass on 3rd and 2 with about 4:10 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. Douglas had an open field in front of him and theoretically could have gotten all the way to the end zone for the go-ahead score, leaving the 49ers to try for a field goal to tie things up or a touchdown to go ahead late in a tough game. Instead, Douglas simply tripped after gaining about 22 yards, the Falcons pushed into the red zone but couldn’t get the top done, and the 49ers ultimately won and dropped the Super Bowl to the Ravens.

To be clear, Douglas was hardly the only reason the Falcons lost that game, and missed calls and inept performance were just as emblematic of the frustrating, close loss as anything HD did. If he had managed to score or even drag Atlanta close enough for a few shots at the end zone inside the ten, the Falcons had a pretty good chance of winning that game. Had they done so, they would have challenged a Ravens team that squeaked out a win over San Francisco, and it would have been a Super Bowl win in the Saints’ stadium. Few things would have been more poetic and beautiful.

It also would have changed the franchise in ways both small and profound. Chances are that the Falcons would not have been quite so quick to break apart the team the following season, meaning John Abraham and Todd McClure may have returned for 2013. The team still may very well have fallen into mediocrity in 2013 and 2014, but Mike Smith may very well have survived that lull because he was the first Super Bowl-winning coach in team history, which might have translated into no Dan Quinn for the 2015 season.

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems obvious that Smith’s Falcons were getting a lot out of a roster that isn’t nearly as talented as the Falcons’ is today, and it’s worth wondering whether the Falcons might have gone down a very different road post-2012 and fallen into a sustained lull. It’s also worth wondering how we’d all feel about that if the Falcons had hoisted their first Lombardi that year, and now I’m wondering if 2017 Dave might still have hair.

Talk through your feelings in the comments, and share your own picks for the biggest what ifs in team history.